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Your Colleagues on Workplace Culture

Conversation with Josh Wyatt, University of Arizona; Amy Bronson, Boston University; Holly Wolk, University of Rochester; Amy Lavi, The University of Michigan

Amy Bronson (Boston University): “Active engagement across the team: people care about outcomes and find ways to work together towards a common goal, fostering collaboration, mutual respect and willingness to not only be their best selves, but actively assist and coach others to achieve success.”

Josh Wyatt (University of Arizona): “Open communication, flexible work environment, and recognition.” “Active communication across all departments within the organization helps to boost collaboration and transparency. When you see employees up talking it's not uncommon to think they're being unproductive, but what's really happening is they're building a social connection that’s necessary for establishing a strong working culture,” he elaborated.

Holly Wolk (University of Rochester) agrees: “Strong internal communication that is transparent and consistent; information flows freely throughout the organization.”

Amy Lavi (The University of Michigan) cites: “Transparency: when there’s transparency, there is a snowball effect of trust and respect that also leads to employees feeling empowered. To feel empowered, employees need to understand their place within the larger organization, they need to be able to see how their piece of the puzzle—their contributions—make an impact that is farther reaching than what they may see on a daily basis. They need to understand the reality - what the challenges are, what the long-term goals are, what the obstacles are. Knowing these things leads to an understanding of what goes into decisions being made for the organization.”

We then spoke about effective ways with which to enhance or change a culture when necessary. Good communication and transparency feature prominently again among their responses.

Amy L.: “Successful culture change comes about when there is alignment and good communication between leadership and the rest of the organization. It’s key that the employees hear that leadership is 100% supportive of the change. Good communication, meaningful relationship building, effective listening, and leaders that show through their behavior that they’re really listening to their employees’ perspectives and ideas is key.”

Amy B. agrees with Amy L. on leadership: “Above all, leadership must be truly invested in creating and sustaining a healthy culture, including understanding the relationship between employee engagement and ROI.”

Josh emphasizes the importance of people getting to know one another and describes efforts at UA to foster this: “It's easy to be disengaged or mistrust someone that you don't know, so we need to focus on breaking down barriers. We've started to initiate social activities around other meetings or events to allow our team to engage with each other in a non-structured environment. We do a sponsored networking event once a month with no set agenda or speakers; it's just an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level.”

Holly focuses on an organization’s values: “Develop organizational values that have buy in from staff; tie the culture to the overarching strategy and business practices, and assess whether the culture is aligned with the vision.”

On the topic of fostering a diverse and inclusive culture, the group addresses why this is sometimes difficult to achieve and what their respective organizations are doing to realize this goal.

Josh: “Diversity and inclusion are difficult because it can take people out of their comfort zones. It's important to recognize the difference between the two; diversity is like being invited to a party, inclusion is like being asked to help plan and host the party.”

He continues, “The University of Arizona created the Office for Diversity and Inclusion Excellence in 2016 to raise awareness of the diverse communities we have on campus in an effort to transform UA into the quintessential Inclusion Excellence university for the 21st century. The UDP takes into consideration the Office's initiatives and how we can incorporate them in the fundraising community on campus.”

Amy Bronson also observes that “discomfort” with the topic is an issue. She states, “Our fear of the uncomfortable conversation about diversity [is a barrier]. Leaders must create a space for people to talk through their discomfort and feelings about diversity and be heard. Often the best way to do this is bring in a consultant to start the conversation or create an employee focus group that has established trust in order to openly address our challenges in making our team more diverse, and especially, sustaining and fostering diversity throughout the organization.”

“At BU, we have hired a consultant who is now embedded on our talent management team,” Amy explains, “and has formed an employee focus group model which has addressing diversity as one of their goals. We also partner closely with our HR office, our peers who are thought leaders in this area, and we constantly share our challenges and best practices with each other across the STM world.”

Amy Lavi describes a similar approach at U. Michigan whereby people are given an opportunity to speak freely and be heard.

“When our organization was charged with creating a 5-year strategic plan on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion the goal, as stated by the university’s president, was to move the needle on DEI within our respective units. Although we are still in the midst of this effort, one success along the way has been creating a culture of listening through ‘conversation circles.’ Similar to a focus group, these conversations are set up to create a safe space for people to be heard. We’ve held them formally twice now within our own unit and both times, people in attendance have felt safe to voice their concerns, experiences, and ideas.”

Holly adds, “We are working to be intentional in our efforts. We work with central human resources to find candidates that are not career fundraisers but have transferrable skill sets.”

Echoing the attributes identified above by your colleagues in Advancement,, the global job search platform, published “10 Signs of a Positive Workplace” by Linnda Durré, which includes:

  1. Positive values
  2. Relaxed and productive atmosphere
  3. Commitment to excellence
  4. Open and honest communication
  5. Cooperation, support and empowerment
  6. Sense of humor
  7. Compassion, respect, and understanding
  8. Flexibility
  9. Positive reinforcement
  10. Emphasis on health, family and environment

If you would like to contribute your thoughts on the traits of a positive and productive workplace culture, please email us at We would love to hear from you!

Amy Bronson is engaged in building and sustaining an outstanding team of advancement professionals who are undertaking an enormous challenge: the first comprehensive campaign in the history of the University. Amy oversees the talent management program for a staff of 200 including seventeen schools and colleges at the University. Encompassing talent acquisition, organizational and learning development, human resource management, finance and administration, Amy partners with colleagues across the University to ensure the advancement team is ready to meet the campaign challenge.


Holly oversees the UR talent management program with a focus on recruitment and employee development for more than 250 advancement professionals. She works with senior leadership to develop and build the next generation of advancement professionals. Her focus and passion is on helping advancement professionals develop career paths that are beneficial to themselves and the organization. During Wolk's tenure, the University of Rochester has worked to redefine its recruitment strategy from focusing on external recruitment efforts to developing staff and promoting from within the organization.


Though born and raised in Virginia, for Josh, home is now wherever his wife and dogs are-not necessarily where they're from. Josh discovered his passion for training and talent development while working in the private sector in the DC area soon after undergrad. After nearly a decade he and his wife made the decision to leave DC when he was offered the newly created position of Training and Talent Development Manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While at UNC-CH he worked to develop a comprehensive talent management strategy involving recruiting, on boarding, training, and developing frontline fundraisers and support staff. He joined the team in Tucson at the University of Arizona as the Director of Talent Development in August 2017.


Amy brings over 20 years of experience in development, focusing on recruitment, human resources, coaching and training for the University of Michigan development community.

Amy partners with colleagues to recruit and retain talent across all areas of development, with a focus on senior fundraising positions. Her recruitment work includes local, regional and national outreach and engagement to help grow the pipeline of candidates interested in careers in philanthropy. Amy has also created an internal coaching program, which includes individual professional coaching and group sessions to teach coaching skills to managers.

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